Hypocrisy in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
"The Crucible" is many things. A piece of great American theatre, a gift to actors, and a wonderful read! One thing it is not is a piece of history, so be warned. Too many people read this as a historical text, despite Arthur Miller's explicit instructions in the play's notes to not do so, and thus they miss the forest for the trees. This is not an examination of the Salem Witch Trials, but rather a fictional rendering of a historical event, in order for the modern reader or viewer to examine their own bias, prejudices, hypocrisy, or concepts of honor.
To me, this play is about one's man's personal redemption. The protagonist of the play, John Proctor, is a fallen man for many reasons, and the play really traces his moral progression to final absolution through honor, truth, and dignity. The events of Salem in 1692 are used for dramatic purposes to tell this story. And what a story it is.
Every time I read this play I feel intense hatred for theocracy and dogmatic religion wherever it may be found, and I also find myself examining my own personal code of ethics and seeing how I stand in the world of moral affairs. "The Crucible" is wonderfully structured in four acts, each one better than the one that preceded it, and it builds to a crescendo and a very abrupt ending that leaves the reader with a pounding heart, an angry mind, and a moral quandary. No small feat!
The text has a very large cast of characters, but in this edition all of Miller's notes are included, and so it reads like a novel, and is a very enjoyable experience, even if one never actually sees it in performance. In the hands of a bad acting company it would be deadly dull, but done well it is exciting. The film version, for which Arthur Miller also wrote the screenplay, is not bad either. Daniel Day Lewis is an excellent John Proctor, and it captures the spirit of the text very well.